Getting Started: Preparing for the world of entrepreneurial adventure (Responsibilities)

Low angle view of young businesswomen with laptop discussing while standing on terrace against sky

As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision:

If you’ve ever come across someone who works with a start up company, cheap chances are, they will tell you how exciting it is. The thrill of building something new, perhaps, with products and services that the marketplace hasn’t seen before, not to mention the fun associated with dreams of hitting it big. It’s not uncommon for entrepreneurs to accentuate the positive, as they view start-ups as what being in business is all about. “In on the ground floor”, “there from Day 1”, “Microsoft before it was Microsoft”, risk/reward mentality. What could be better than that?

Although working with a start up or, what investors often refer to as “early stage”, company can be an exciting place, it’s important to fully consider what’s involved before taking the leap. Those who haven’t spent much time around the start up world might be surprised to find out what the flip side of opportunity looks like. In this series, we will consider exactly that, so you can make an informed choice, and perhaps, benefit from placing a greater emphasis on developing some of the skills that will serve you well, in advance of when they’re actually needed.

In Part 1, we considered the issue of risk. Let’s move to what just might be the dark side of the start up world; the ever expanding job description.

Why it Matters

Yes, mother told you there would be days like this; that is, days that don’t end due to what seems to be an endless task list of urgent “to do” items. It’s true that early stage companies attract individuals for their particular skill areas, such as engineering, sales, and a host of technical capabilities. All of these areas are essential to developing and moving a young upstart forward. What isn’t often part of the discussion is the long list of “other duties as assigned”, which could include tasks that you might consider to be well below your pay grade. This isn’t quite the same as your corporate job; you know, the one that actually has a description.

The bottom line is that start-ups have limited resources, in terms of people, time, and money. When things need to get done, there isn’t the luxury of delegating lesser tasks to a staff group or putting up the cash to resolve it. In a world of empty bank accounts, the buck stops with those who are around what is often a small table. Running errands, formatting documents, making the coffee, or cleaning up the workspace are necessary, and although it might sound funny, it’s amazing how foreign all of this can be after spending a few years in a large, established company. And in addition to these required, but time wasting tasks, you’ve also got to get your real job done; urgently!

Get Started

Working for a start up is an adjustment; there’s no two ways about it. And although the need to pitch in and do what’s required might sound petty, it’s surprising just how much of a shift this can be from what might be the norm in the corporate or professional services world.

Here’s how to get started:

  • Mindset is key: The secret to doing menial things well is having the right attitude. Check yours to ensure that you’re not looking down on tasks that you might consider as “someone else’s responsibility”, but rather, taking pride in a job well done and a willingness to help. Once you do, you’ll start to notice how many people are not willing to do so.
  • Organize where possible: Although you can’t plan everything that will come your way, it’s amazing how much actually can be organized when you make the effort. Look at the responsibilities that you have on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis and plan how and when to get the work done. When the unexpected comes along, the majority of what needs to get done won’t get derailed. This approach is one that will serve you well wherever you go and is a tactic of the highly productive.
  • Set short term goals: Keeping a keen eye on what needs to be achieved in a day, for example, can be helpful in planning your time and checking in to ensure that your task list stays on track. This approach can also be used to create the “positive pressure” and sense of urgency that deadlines tend to generate, creating windows of time for completing some of the more less than stellar items.
  • Plan for setbacks: Start ups tend to have more than their fair share of setbacks, with lots of time being spent at Square One. Recognize this, and take progress for what it is, as there will be days when the only success you’ll be able to point to is those menial tasks. Learn that even these are worth something.

There’s a certain pride that comes from the achievement of what isn’t exactly glamorous; the marathons, the mountain climbs, the cross country treks. In order to survive the start up journey, it’s important to recognize that it’s not the quick sprint to success that entrepreneurs tend to imagine. But, like many of the climbs that have characterized your path thus far, it might just be the time of your life.

 

Put Yourself to Work (What to do when it “isn’t working”)

As published by CPA Canada in CareerVision

So, online you’ve been busy, store busy, busy; volunteering your time with non-profit organizations, taking on extra work assignments, and helping out with the office social committee.  You have enrolled in a professional designation program (completed the first two courses with flying colors!) and thanks to your persistence, have been able to convince your CEO neighbour to meet for mentoring sessions once a month.  You are Putting Yourself to Work like a house on fire!

Compare this to your workplace cubicle mate, who doesn’t seem to do much more than the job at hand (who, me, volunteer?) and manages to spend weekends out with friends without a care in the world.  The assignments you get are no better than his (and might even be a bit worse at times), despite all of your efforts and the talent you are developing.  What’s more, annual performance reviews were last week and your appraisal was nothing out of the ordinary: an awkward meeting with your boss, the clichéd “keep this up and you will be promoted soon”, a handshake, and you’re adjourned.  Not exactly what you had in mind, given all the extra work you’ve been doing.

“Isn’t anyone paying attention around here?” you wonder, passing your co-workers on their way out the door for afternoon coffee.  You’ve been doing everything you can to expand your skills, show initiative, and position yourself for a more senior position, with no real progress (except for your own).  What’s happening here?  Times like this are ideal for having a good look at the situation and taking stock.  Here’s how.

Put Yourself to Work:  What to do when it “isn’t working”

Despite all of your efforts, your lack of progress could be due to a few things:

  • Not enough time has passed—although you’ve put your nose to the grindstone for what seems like forever, how long has it been really? The busier you are, sometimes the longer it seems you have been working (in fact, you are accomplishing more, which is a good thing).  Step back and determine how long you have been “in development”, and if it’s only been a few months, a bit more patience is required. Putting yourself to work is an investment and is actually a progression to developing a new mindset, so recognize that it might take a year or two to see the progress you desire (remember that it did take you longer than this to complete your university education or professional designation.  Although the tactics might be different here, but it still takes time to make tangible progress).
  • You might be off-course—sometimes we can get so busy that we don’t take the time to step back and determine if we are focusing on the right things (think of how some tasks just seem to lead to other, more obscure tasks). Ask yourself if you need to make some adjustments to focus on activities that are directly related to where you want to go and, if so, get back on track.  If you are having difficulty identifying the key issues, your mentor could be a great resource to provide a more objective viewpoint
  • You might not making the impact you think you are—now, this is the time to take a good, hard look in the mirror (which can sometimes be difficult to do). Although you might be working hard, are you really getting the necessary results to demonstrate that you are mastering the task at hand?  Sometimes, we take on so many tasks that we don’t have the necessary time and energy to truly excel.  Remember, “quality” is more important than “quantity”, and you’re better to establish the reputation of excelling at whatever you do, as opposed to taking on many things with less than stellar results.
  • You might not be in the right environment— the previous three areas have given you the opportunity to have a good look at yourself and your progress. This area requires you to look around at your workplace and ask the question if it is one that is receptive to achievements such as volunteerism and professional development.  Although it might be difficult to believe, some workplaces don’t fully appreciate the benefits of these enrichments.  Look at the achievements of the leaders in your workplace to determine if they are actively involved in these areas and to get a sense of their attitudes in this regard; it just might be that you’ve progressed to a point where you should consider your options.  Should you decide to do so, be sure to evaluate any potential employers in terms of the value they assign to areas like professional development, volunteerism, and mentorship.

Whatever your analysis reveals, recognize this: you have made achievements that are an investment in yourself and this store of value will follow you wherever you go.  That’s the whole point of putting yourself to work.